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6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

6 Hard Truths About Volunteering Abroad That No One Will Tell You

When you want to travel and do some charity work at the same time, volunteering abroad seems to be the best option. It’s also a great option for students who want to travel but are short on money. The prospect of traveling cheap and helping people is very seductive, so before you know it, you may find yourself teaching English in South America or helping medical staff in an AIDS clinic in Africa. On paper it’s all nice, but the harsh reality might be way too much for you. When I traveled to Romania to help children in remote villages in the Carpathian mountains, I wasn’t ready for what I found. Here are the hard truths no one is telling you about volunteering abroad.

1. Fundraising is an important part of volunteering abroad

When you sign up to volunteer abroad, you need to know these organizations need both your work and money. This is why fundraising is mandatory in most cases. Before you leave, the organization may ask you to raise some funds to validate your spot among the volunteers. Some organizations will ask you to fundraise while volunteering.

There are some organizations which can cover the cost of your accommodations because they get help from locals who volunteer to shelter people who come to help them.

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However, you need to make sure the money you are raising is going to the right places, so ask the organization how they will use the money you send. The right answers are for providing food, equipment, and supplies for volunteers like you and the locals. Another thing you’ll want to research before sending the money is if the actions taken by the organization are ethical and really help the local communities. Unfortunately, there are places where volunteers do more harm than good.

2. Find the right volunteer program for you

I am not the person to build houses — my skills in crafting are limited to understanding the difference between a nail and a hammer. However, I do have excellent communication skills and I know how to attract kids and make them listen to me. So, I went on and worked with kids during my volunteering abroad experience.

Picking the right volunteer program for you is essential because not all programs are a good fit for your abilities. Before you enrol in a program, make sure you are a good candidate. You may want to work as a nurse, but if you become sick from seeing blood, this is not the right position for you.

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3. Your volunteer work is not an employment guarantee

After working as a volunteer in an organization, there is no guarantee someone will actually hire you or will help you extend your visa. Yes, these things happen, but they happen to a small number of volunteers, so don’t rely on this. All you can do is dedicate yourself to your work and connect with as many organizations, businesses, and people as you can.

4. It will be bad

Now comes the really hard part of this article: volunteering abroad is not all smiles and cocktails — it will have a bad side! When you arrive at your site, you may be greeted by the poorest, illest-looking person you’ve ever seen in your life. Disease and a lack of the basic features of a home, such as tap water and medicines, are going to shock you. Then you will have to face the realities of surviving a couple of months sleeping in tiny huts or dorms, eating the same food every day. Volunteering is going to show you just how weak you are, but also how strong you are. On your first day, you won’t even be able to look at the dirty, emaciated people around you; on your last day, you will look straight into their eyes.

5. The problems will be worse than you’ve imagined

Many volunteers start their adventure abroad thinking they will go there and eradicate any trace of disease, poverty, and illiteracy in the area. The reality is more cruel than this sweet dream: you won’t make a hugely significant difference! Your volunteering abroad time is only going to help a couple of poor kids learn how to say “thank you” in English. Or perhaps you will help a mother with AIDS deliver a healthy baby. You won’t change the world nor the local community, but the small changes still mean something.

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6. Volunteering abroad will make you feel useless

Because you will discover a new world, where nothing is like you’ve seen in pictures or on TV, volunteering abroad will make you feel useless. Most of the time, you will be “just a volunteer” who will be sent to bring a bucket of water or left out of important matters, because you will leave in couple of weeks. This will make your feelings of uselessness even worse, but you need to be firm and positive. Focus on what you can do and learn to love it! If you work with people, try to ignore their coolness and do your job well. They will learn to love you!

Empowering, fulfilling, and amazing – this is real-life volunteering!

Volunteering abroad can be an empowering, fulfilling, and amazing experience, but it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. Make sure you stay realistic about your new adventure and do as much research as you can so you won’t be taken by surprise when you land in a remote area.

When you are faced with the hard truth of volunteering, you will discover a side of your personality you never knew you had. You will learn how strong you are, even if you end up crying every day for the first two weeks.

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Volunteering abroad, regardless where and how you do it, is going to leave a strong mark on you. Some day, despite the hard stuff, you might even want to do it all over again.

Featured photo credit: Visions Service Adventures/Flickr via flickr.com

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Last Updated on July 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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